Hannah Woodall, Land Use Policy Office for RSPB Cymru outlines the effective ways that farmers in Wales are using nature friendly farming techniques to improve farm resilience and provide environmental benefits.  

Farming in Wales is at its core and farmers feel a strong connection to the land, taking pleasure from the nature that calls it their home. Whether this be the haunting call of the curlew, the radiance of the yellowhammer or the hum of the springtime hawthorn hedge. For centuries, the traditional and mixed farming systems in Wales have provided habitats for a wide range of species. Sadly though, these iconic farmland sights and sounds are disappearing, alongside farming itself.

Driven by a need to survive within the industry, farmers often feel their only option to succeed is to farm more intensively and in some cases, failure to do so makes farming nonviable. This intensification driven by unfit policies and inadequate environmental schemes has reduced the diversity of Wales’s agricultural industry, ousting more traditional farming, reducing the quality of agricultural land and resilience, as well as removing habitat that species rely upon for their survival. In Wales, none of our ecosystems are resilient and in June 2021, Welsh Government declared a Nature Emergency; these are labels no one wants Wales to bear. So it must be made very clear at this critical time in Welsh farming that farmers are not the enemy in nature’s decline but do have a large part to play in its restoration.

Future of farming in Wales

2022 will see the start of a new era to the farming system in Wales through the publication of the new Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFS) and Agriculture Bill. The new scheme based on Sustainable Land Management, will phase out the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) over five years from the beginning of 2025, and will pay farmers for positive environmental outcomes. Given the precarious state of Welsh nature and ecosystems, biodiversity requires its own space within the SFS and should not be considered solely as a by-product of other environmental outcomes. Failure to address this requirement will see further degradation to nature and ecosystem resilience in Wales.

In light of global pressures seen over the past two years through the fear of pandemics and conflict, farming in Wales must be more resilient than ever and it is now recognised that resilient ecosystems underpin sustainable food production and provide infrastructure for farm businesses. Policies and schemes must enable Welsh farmers to move away from intensive agriculture in order to aid the restoration of nature and ecosystem resilience, to ensure we can produce food for future generations and provide wider environmental benefits to society.

Right now in Wales, there are farmers doing just this, through nature friendly farming and have seen the benefits this type of farming can bring to their on farm resilience and business.

Our work

Earlier this year a group of these Welsh farmers, worked with RSPB Cymru to help demonstrate that habitats and wildlife can thrive within a diversity of farming systems, across the country. The farmers assessed their farmland, based upon the Fair to Nature standard and then shared their finding with us. The standard seeks to help farmers incorporate and manage a range of wildlife habitats on their farms to help maintain and restore nature alongside food production. These farmers were able to show that they all have important habitats, including flower rich permanent pasture, thriving riparian buffers, valuable arable habitats and iconic wood pasture. From this RSPB Cymru are developing a Nature Positive standard for Wales, which we propose should be incorporated into the entry level of the new Sustainable Farm Scheme so that it helps all farmers work towards a Nature Positive Wales.

We will use this work to illustrate that Welsh farms can contain a variety of habitats across the farming systems whilst producing food successfully and sustainably, that is overall positive for nature, people and climate.

Here are two of the fantastic farmers who took part in this work, showcasing the benefits of diversification, their vision for the future and are providing nature a home (please click on the individual case study to enlarge the image).

Article by Hannah Woodall, RSPB Cymru, hannah.woodall@rspb.org.uk. Diolch yn fawr bawb.